The stars will be out for UConn-Syracuse women in NCAA second round

Mar. 24—STORRS — Syracuse guard Dyaisha Fair had to be carried from the floor in Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game against Arizona.

But Fair soon returned to the bench area and to the floor, where she scored the Orange's final 13 points in a 74-69 win over Arizona. Sixth-seeded Syracuse, which advanced to Monday's second round to meet No. 3 UConn, only led the game for 2 minutes, 9 seconds.

"When she came to the bench, I looked at her, she said, 'Coach, two words. I'm good,'" Syracuse coach Felisha Legette-Jack said in recounting the ensuing high-five she gave her star player. "I smacked her hand so hard, I might have broke her arm."

UConn (30-5) is ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, with Syracuse (25-7) at No. 22. The teams will meet at 6 p.m. Monday at Gampel Pavilion (ESPN), with the winner headed to face Duke in the Sweet 16 next Saturday in Portland, Oregon.

The former Big East rivals, UConn and Syracuse each boast a star.

UConn's Paige Bueckers is the Big East Conference Player of the Year and a first team AP All-American, turning in a postseason so far which is nothing short of extraordinary (111 points in four games, including the Big East tournament).

Fair, meanwhile, a 5-foot-5 fifth-year senior from Rochester, New York, named a third team All-American by the Associated Press, is fifth all-time on the NCAA Division I scoring list with 3,383 points, 10 shy of Missouri State great Jackie Stiles in fourth.

UConn has won the last 26 meetings against Syracuse, including the 2016 national championship game in Indianapolis (82-51), with the teams last facing off in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2021 in San Antonio (83-47).

This season under Legette-Jack, her second as head coach of the Orange after 10 years at Buffalo, Syracuse has beaten four top-15 teams in Atlantic Coast Conference play, including Notre Dame twice (86-81 and 79-65), Florida State and Louisville.

"I think we're just trying to take it as if it's another game," Fair said Sunday afternoon from the visitors' locker room at Gampel Pavilion, a crowd of reporters hanging on her every word. "We're going to play our game and stick to our game plan and not think about (facing Bueckers).

"I think we scrimmaged them back in October. (What I remember) is that we were able to compete with them and that kind of helped us and we know what we have to do tomorrow to come out with success."

Fair, a graduate of Edison Tech High School in Rochester, was not highly recruited, the eldest of four children who helped raise her siblings. She went to Buffalo to play for Legette-Jack where she scored 2,035 points in three seasons.

When Legette-Jack left for Syracuse, her alma mater, Fair transferred. With the Orange, Fair has been a two-time All-ACC first team selection and scored her 3,000th career point Jan. 14 against Clemson.

"Just the defense will always be on their toes because you don't know if I'll just shoot the ball, you don't know if I'm gonna make a pass," Fair, who averages 22.6 points per game, said of what makes her tough to stop. "You don't know if I'm gonna go by or try to get by. You just never know. I say that because I never know myself."

"She is gonna go off. She is going to score a lot of points. That's what she does. She's really good at it," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of defending Fair. "And I don't know that you're going to be able to go, 'Hey, make sure she gets 10 tonight.' It might be like, 'Hey, can we keep her under 20.' Sometimes one player can be that dominant."

UConn, meanwhile, is coming off an 86-64 first-round win over No. 14 Jackson State on Saturday, with Bueckers (28 points, 11 rebounds), Aaliyah Edwards (20 points, 10 rebounds) and freshman Ashlyn Shade (career-high 26 points) all eclipsing the 20-point mark.

Bueckers is averaging 21.5 points per game for the Huskies, who have won 29 straight second-round NCAA games, and Edwards is averaging 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds.

Legette-Jack's game plan is much the same as Auriemma's. She said the Orange will respect Bueckers and try to contain the rest of the UConn players.

"The challenge is we have to turn it around fast (after playing Saturday)," Legette-Jack said. "And I think that's a challenge for both of us.

"I just think that they have a high-octane offense, where they just kind of want the ball back to shoot another 3 and make another 3 and shoot another 3 and make another three. And we fall asleep, they'll get you on the backdoor layup.

"There's going to be times when they flat-out score because they've done it against everybody in the country, right? And so our goal is to stay locked in defensively as long as we can and give it our best shot."

No. 3 UConn vs. No. 6 Syracuse

Location: Gampel Pavilion

Tip: 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: Syracuse 25-7, UConn 30-5.

Last game: Syracuse beat No. 11 Arizona in the NCAA tournament first round, 74-69, Saturday; UConn beat No. 14 Jackson State in the NCAA tournament first round, 86-64, Saturday.

Last game's starters: Syracuse, 6-3 F Kyra Wood (6.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), 6-2 F Alyssa Latham (8.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg), 5-5 G Dyaisha Fair (22.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 spg), 6-0 G Georgia Woolley (13.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.9 spg), 5-8 G Alaina Rice (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 apg).

UConn, 6-3 F Aaliyah Edwards (17.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg), 5-9 G KK Arnold (8.8 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.2 spg), 6-0 G Paige Bueckers (21.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.2 spg), 5-11 G Nika Muhl (7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.2 spg), 5-10 G Ashlynn Shade (11.5 ppg, 1.5 apg).

Noteworthy: UConn will face off against Syracuse fifth-year guard Dyaisha Fair, who is the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA Division I history with 3,383 points. In UConn's five losses this year, it has given up some big performances by opposing guards, including N.C. State's Saniya Rivers (33 points), UCLA's Kiki Rice (24), Texas star Rori Harmon (27) and Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo (34). UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Sunday, however, that in games the Huskies have struggled, for the most part it hasn't been the defense that's let the team down but the offense. "Even when the guards get 30-something as Hidalgo did, the score was 60-60 going into the fourth quarter and we fell apart offensively," Auriemma said. "So I don't know that you can just go out and take somebody out of the game that's that good. On the other end, you've got to score and you've got to continue to score the entire game." Said UConn senior guard Nika Muhl of defending Fair: "Obviously, we have a lot of respect for their whole team, especially her. She's their leader. She's going to have the ball most of the times. ... I feel like it never comes down to one player guarding. I feel like it's always a team defense that wins against players and teams like that. I feel like we have a good defensive plan. I mean, it's going to come down to team defense." ... Syracuse tied a program record with 23 regular-season wins under second-year coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who was named the ACC Coach of the Year. ... Syracuse assistant Sue Ludwig is a former college teammate of Legette-Jack's with the Orange. The pair were reunited this season after Ludwig stepped down after 31 seasons coaching at Westhill High School, become the girls' basketball wins leader in New York. ... UConn is 39-13 all-time against Syracuse, having won 26 straight. The last win in the series by the Orange came on Jan. 2, 1996. ... UConn tops Syracuse in scoring 80.9-74.4 points per game, while the Orange hold an edge in rebounding 41.5-39.0.

— Vickie Fulkerson